Alongside everyone up and down the country, we’re working through another national lockdown. As we did in March 2020 with the first lockdown, we’ve pivoted our services to ensure that we are here for all our members.
We’ve gone above and beyond, stepped up and served and focused on our students. We continue to adapt in light of a third national lockdown and are providing support to our members whilst planning for the future. Here’s a rundown of what we’ve done and what’s available for our members.
Work of our Officer Teams
There have been two full-time Officer Teams that have had to work through the pandemic. Our outgoing team from 2019/20 hit the ground running in March 2020, working to ensure students were supported as they shifted to online learning. This gave the 2020/21 team – which includes two Officers from the previous team – a good footing of work to continue with.
We gave you an update during the first lockdown of changes made then, and we’ve kept a decision log online since. All the key decisions and work that Officers has done is and will be listed there for our members and stakeholders to see.
Our Officers are continuing to work with the University to get student queries addressed and clarify what the University is doing to continue your learning and support and get the best deal for you. Their last update is on our website
Key policy changes for academic work and accommodation
Our Officers Teams have driven some key changes to University policies since the pandemic started. The first was around academic work, ensuring that the University’s Extenuating Circumstances (EC) process was changed and a No Detriment policy was introduced to factor in the impact of the pandemic on students’ work.
Covid-19 struck at the time where university students nationwide were preparing for assessments and exams to allow them to continue or graduate. The disruption of teaching moving online, alongside any personal impacts due to the pandemic, meant that some students may not have been able to complete their work effectively. Officers worked with the University in Task and Finish groups, lobbying academic and non-academic teams to change the EC and No Detriment policies to provide a safety net to students being assessed in 2019/20. These policies have been continued and adapted for 2020/21 as the ever-changing impact of the pandemic continues to affect students' studies.
Reaching out to those in halls
Whilst some of our long-term work was on hold in April-May 2020, we are focused some resources on students who are still living in halls and might have affected by the Covid-19 outbreak.
Our Campus Engagement Manager for Avery Hill started to organise virtual activities for 50-100 students, which then turned into a mass pastoral project for all of the residents within halls. Approx. 1,300 students were identified who may or may not still be residing in halls, and then some of our student staff team (previously bar staff, baristas, receptionists) were trained to call each student to check on their wellbeing, residential status, isolation activities of choice, and signpost to the right services they needed. These calls showed students that their students’ union was there for them and gave them ways to get through that first lockdown.
Sign Write Tell Healthcare Students campaign
In April 2020, our outgoing team launched a campaign called Sign Write Tell. The campaign called for the government to waive the debt of all healthcare students who stepped up to work on the NHS frontline at the start of the pandemic. The campaign launched with support from over 100 Greenwich Healthcare Students and 29 Students' Unions across the country. The campaign did reach the Department of Education (DoE) and we received a response. The DoE did not waive the debt of Healthcare students; however, knowing that our efforts were acknowledged shows just powerful our campaigning was.
Looking after our student staff
At the start of the March lockdown, we worked quickly to help our student staff to support their lost earnings and provide as many jobs as possible into the 2020/21 academic year. The Vice Chancellor supported us in March with funding have their wages paid to them during our closure, right up to the end of the academic year (July 2020). Since the start of this academic year, we have used student staff wherever possible, including in our recent Wellbeing and Retention Project.
Wellbeing and Retention Project
In October, we were commissioned by the University to run a Wellbeing and Retention project. GSU run annual Wellbeing Checks, which were moved online due to Covid -19 restrictions. The questions in the check were expanded to cover more wellbeing topics, and we recruited a team of student ambassadors to place all the calls. Initially, the project was aimed at first year students; the project was then expanded to call every student at the University. Over 16,000 calls were made, with over 4,000 of those resulting in a full check. Some of the feedback from the ambassadors was:
- “One student was having particular concerns about WMH and wasn't aware of the support and was super grateful to be given help”.
- “A lot of students were happy that the call took place, which made the job fulfilling”.
- “One student said he felt motivated after the call which makes me feel so happy”.
Welcome in 2020 and 2021
We’ve had two Welcome programmes this year – our Welcome in September was a blended offer of in person and online events, whilst our Welcome in January is all online (inline with government guidelines). In amongst the restrictions due to Covid, we’ve still be able to give students a fun start to their journey at Greenwich.
Student Info online
Our Student Info microsite (gresu.uk/studentinfo) launched in April to house all the information coming through for students relating to the pandemic. We curated a set of frequently asked questions, information about University and Union services (including Greenwich and Kent Students’ Union in Medway), and important wellbeing resources. This was accompanied by information about what we were doing to keep our spaces Covid-safe. Following the changes in November/December, the microsite relaunched with fresh information, and is kept up-to-date with the latest news.
Our work at Avery Hill
Our Village Shop in Avery Hill has stayed open throughout the pandemic to ensure a service is always available for students. Changes were made in store from March 2020 to ensure the shop was Covid safe for customers and staff alike. We offered discounts for frontline workers in the shop throughout the pandemic and continue to.
Alongside this, the Village Shop launched a takeaway service so that students on campus could order our great value food and drink for collection or contactless delivery. This allowed students to get freshly made, hot, and affordable refreshment to their door.
GSU team collaboration
Our Commercial and Activities teams worked together to support students in halls to offer free birthday packages to students living in halls over the first lockdown.
The teams have also worked together to provide a range of activity kits such as wreath making, home beer festival kits, aromatherapy, and murder mystery, which have all been collectable from our Village Shop and Welcome Desks.
Last term, we worked with the University’s Accommodation and Catering teams to implement a grocery delivery service for students who needed to isolate in halls on all campuses. Students could order groceries online via our website, which were then delivered through University Porters to their halls.
Our Advice Service has continued its expanded service, meaning some our SU staff team are assisting our Advisers by triaging queries, helping more students than ever (gresu.uk/advice).
Alongside our Covid response, strategic work has still been taking place. We had started work on a new strategy in February 2020; this was paused for us to respond to the pandemic. In the summer of 2020, we created a one-year Big Plan with an operational plan to recover over 2020/21; work on our new strategy for August 2021 has now restarted. We have also created a Race Equality Strategy, with staff at all levels contributing, and are working to understand pay gaps in regards to Gender, Ethnicity and Disability. Our work on these will be published in the coming months.
The Lower Deck
The Lower Deck, our venue in Greenwich, reopened in September with a Covid safe offer for food and drink. The venue was rearranged to allow for social distancing, our garden area was expanded and made weatherproof, tables could be booked advance online, and there was an online ordering system and table service put in place inside and outside the venue. Covid-safe events were also programmed that students could enjoy. These included hosting student group events to allow students to meet and socialise, and ensuring events were streamed online for anyone to enjoy at home. The venue has been closed since the November shutdown, and we look forward to being able to open it back up soon.
As ever, thank you to the Officer Team, staff and students involved in implementing all of this change, sometimes at last minute. We’re grateful to the University also for their support and willingness to work with us on some of the projects above. We know they value our partnership as much as we do, and even spoke about it in their news last December. To quote the article, “GSU is an integral relationship to the university and by creating a shared platform for collaboration it means we can work together for positive advancement.”
We’ll continue running our services and adapting them where need be to help students through this latest lockdown and beyond.